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Criminal Process: What to Expect if you are Charged with a Crime.

Being charged with a crime is serious. A conviction on your record can have adverse effects on your employment, business licenses, professional licenses, driver’s license, and ability to find housing. In Skagit County over 1,000 criminal cases were filed in Superior Court and approximately 26,000 in District Court. Filings in district court include infractions such as speeding tickets, DUI, driving without insurance and more. Links to the annual court reports are below.


For those of you interested in the criminal process I’ve outlined below what typically happens in a criminal case filed in Skagit District Court or Superior Court. This is not a complete list of all options; rather it is a general outline to help you understand how a case proceeds.

Typically in a criminal case the defendant will either be arrested or given a document informing them of their first court date. The first court date is called an arraignment. At the arraignment the defendant is advised by the Judge of their rights, including the right to an attorney. You will also be asked to enter your plea: guilty or not guilty. At an arraignment you should always say not guilty and ask for an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, a public defender will be appointed to you. If you want to hire an attorney you are constitutionally allowed to. You have an absolute right to be represented in a criminal case by an attorney. The court will grant a continuance of your case so that you can get an attorney.

Your next hearing will be in Mount Vernon, at the Superior Court building or District Court. They are both located off of the Kincaid Street exit, and they are across the street from each other. This hearing is called a pre-trial conference, or PTC for short. At a PTC the prosecuting attorney or your attorney can do just a couple of different things. Your case can either be set for a trial calendar or get continued. If the case gets continued, it can be set for a trial calendar later. If it gets set for a trial calendar, it can still be continued later on.

In Superior Court you would also have a hearing referred to as an “Omnibus hearing” (link below). An Omnibus hearing is meant to decide issues relating to discovery and other pre-trial matters.

You may also have to go to court for a criminal motion calendar. Criminal motions can be brought by your attorney to have your case dismissed, charges dropped, or evidence suppressed.

Your case will then either be resolved by a plea or a trial. A plea can be entered into anytime prior to a jury or judge reaching a verdict. If you decide to enter into a plea, there will be a rather lengthy document for you to review with your attorney, which is called a plea on statement of guilty. In the document you will be advised of your rights, and the rights you will give up by entering into a plea. The form will also advise you of the maximum penalty you face. The form will also have a recommendation as to what the agreed upon recommendation is. What that means is that your attorney and the prosecuting attorney have reached some agreed upon penalty for your case. They will jointly recommend this to the judge (in some cases there will not be a joint recommendation, but this is more rare). You should be advised that the recommendation is just that, a recommendation. The judge is free to sentence you to any punishment authorized by law, up to the maximum. The plea form will state what the maximum is. Judges will usually follow a recommendation, but may change the sentence if they believe justice is not being served.

A trial requires the selection a jury – which is called voir dire. After a jury is selected, the judge will provide some instructions. The prosecuting attorney will get a chance to make an opening statement followed by the defense attorney’s opening statement. Then the prosecutor will try to prove their case in chief. The burden of proof is on them and they have to prove every element of the charges against you, beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor proves its case by calling witnesses to testify against you and by introducing evidence through the witnesses. The defense attorney is allowed to cross-examine the witnesses called by the prosecutor. When the prosecutor is done calling witnesses they rest their case. The defendant’s attorney gets to call witnesses at this point. The defendant may also choose to testify at this time. When the defendant is done calling witnesses the prosecutor makes a closing argument, then the defendant’s attorney makes a closing argument and finally the prosecutor gets one last closing argument. After that the judge will provide further instructions to the jury. The jury begins its deliberations and at some point reaches a decision.

The jury will reach a verdict of guilty, not guilty or will be hung. The jury does not ever decide anyone is innocent, rather they simply decide between guilty or not guilty. If the jury reaches a verdict of guilty the judge will then set a date for sentencing.

At a sentencing hearing victims of the crime may offer statements, the defendant may speak, the defendant’s attorney, and the prosecutor. As an example a defendant in District Court might be sentenced to 10 days in jail, a $500 fine, 2 years probation, and a drug and alcohol class. The defendant would go to the jail alternatives office to set up a commit date – this is the date they would have to show up at the jail to do their 10 days. (In Superior Court it is more likely-depending on the length of jail sentence-a defendant might be taken into custody immediately.) Usually a defendant who behaves in jail is eligible for ‘good time served’ which means they will spend approximately 2/3 of the actual sentence in jail. The jail alternatives office can also inform you of where you need to go to complete a drug and alcohol class. All fines get paid to the court clerk.

Municipal courts follow the same kind of procedure as Superior Court and District Court outlined above. The biggest difference is that Municipal Court will take place in the city where the offence is alleged to have occurred. In Skagit County, we have municipal courts in Mount Vernon, Burlington, Anacortes, and Sedro-Woolley.

After a set amount of time ranging from 2-10 years, while staying out of trouble, some crimes can be removed from your criminal history.



Skagit County Superior Court Annual Report

Skagit County District Court Annual Report

Omnibus Hearing


Criminal Defense: What to Expect if you have an Attorney.

Above I gave you an outline of what happens when you get charged with a crime. I’m going to add some details here so that you know what happens if you hire me on as your attorney. Again, this is an outline; it is not an exhaustive list of what I do on your behalf.

When I get hired I immediately start collecting information on your case. I contact witnesses, get discovery from the prosecutor, I get documents or videos from any witnesses involved, I review Facebook profiles and other sources of social media, and visit the scene of the alleged crime. I look for every last bit of information on your case that is helpful.

I take the time to meet with my clients. I will talk to you on the phone, in person, via text messages, or emails. The point is, I’m here for you and I’m working on your case. I answer my own phone a lot of the time. I’m available after hours to talk or meet.

I research the law on your case. The law actually changes a fair bit with time, and therefore it is always important to check the latest rules and cases which might have an impact on your case. This can be very important and useful to bring motions on your behalf to have charges dismissed, reduced, or to have evidence suppressed and thrown out.

After having completed my investigation, any motions, and any other work I think is necessary for your case, I’ll come up with a plan on what can be done on your behalf. If your case needs to go to trial, so be it. That is your decision. I will tell you if I think it’s a bad decision, or if your case would be better suited for a plea. If your case is going to be resolved by a plea, I will thoroughly discuss the implications for you and work to get you the best possible plea deal available.

As always, I do not charge for consultations. Feel free to call me for an appointment today!